Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This video is a mix of the Army Strong video produced by the army to entice young women and men to join the military. The other video is produced by Displaced Films which is a series of films produced for the Iraq Veterans Against the War http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier
The series of films can also be seen here http://www.vimeo.com/5448532
You can make a donation to Jeriko Films here http://jerikofilms.wordpress.com/about/
The military has a budget of $459 million in advertising revenue which is the amount it spent in 2005. Please help us provide an honest picture of war by making a donation. Here is further information from, David Zeiger who requested we include the following information.
Hello Cindy and All
I am so happy that you used episodes from our series, This is Where We Take Our Stand, for your Army Strong video. It's incredibly powerful, and getting out to a lot of people. You did a great thing with it, and this is what the series is for.
I have a very important request, though. Please make it much more clear on your site and in the piece that the material is from the web series This is Where We Take Our Stand, and that the entire series can and should be seen at http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/ There are still two episodes that will be posted this monday and in two weeks, and then the entire series will be available as a single piece as well.
First of all, it's important that people see the whole series. But along with that, it's been a tremendous struggle to get the story made and told, and we are still in the midst of trying to get the funds to complete a television film as well. So it is crucial that both the name of the series and the people who made it be very prominent whenever it is used. It's also important to include that it is from the people who made Sir! No Sir! I'm sure you understand all of this.
We are linking Army Strong to http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/, and will do what we can to help get it out there.
You are now watching: Episode Two: Rules of Engagement
As testimony continues, the question “What about the Iraqi people?” takes center stage. When you are part of an occupying army and most of them want to kill you, who do you blame? Clifton Hicks recounts a deadly assault his unit made on a civilian neighborhood while struggling with his inability to identify with their pain. Jason Hurd argues, though, that this war will never end until people know the suffering we have brought to the people there. For him, Winter Soldier is a way to apologize to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article, "Anti-war group visits state", by Ron Jenkins, was posted by the Associated Press, August 18, 2008
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke out Monday in Oklahoma as part of a national tour that includes events in Oklahoma City and Lawton, near Fort Sill Army Base.
Several members of the anti-war group attended a news conference at the state Capitol, including Justin Cliburn of Lawton, an Oklahoma Army National Guard member who went to Iraq in 2005.
The protesters criticized politicians for saying they support the troops, while voting against legislation to upgrade military equipment sent to Iraq and take care of veterans' medical needs when they return home.
They said that contrary to what is seen in news reports, most Iraqis do not support "the American occupation" of their country.
"The Iraqis told us, 'Look, I know you have good intentions here, but you're messing up our lives,'" said Jason Hurd of Asheville, N.C., an Army veteran and medic who was deployed in Baghdad in 2004.
Kristofer Goldsmith of Long Island, N.Y., spoke of attempting suicide after becoming disillusioned in Iraq.
Goldsmith said more needs to be done to help returning veterans with medical problems, including post traumatic stress disorder.
"The best way to support the troops is to keep them alive when they get back," he said.
Members of the IVAW were scheduled to speak Monday night at the First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City and planned a free barbecue and workshop for veterans on Tuesday at Cameron University in Lawton.
The IVAW was praised by soldiers speaking at the Capitol for helping them deal with red tape standing in the way of getting medical and other benefits.
They were joined by two Oklahoma men whose sons were killed in Iraq Warren Henthorn of Choctaw and John Scripsick of Wayne.
Also speaking were James Branum, a Lawton lawyer who operates the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and Nathaniel Batchelder, the director of the Oklahoma City Peace House.
This article, "Veterans against Iraq War make stop in Capitol", by Barbara Hoberock, was published in the Tulsa World, August 19, 2008
OKLAHOMA CITY — Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War on Monday stopped in Oklahoma City to draw attention to their cause.
The group, wearing black shirts reading "Honor the Warrior Not the War," and "Iraq Veterans Against the War" is stopping at eight cities with military bases, including Lawton, home to Fort Sill, as part of the "State of the Union Base Tour."
The group held a Capitol press conference on Monday.
Lawton resident Justin Cliburn, who served in Iraq with the Oklahoma Army National Guard, said the group wants the United States to withdraw from Iraq, provide full benefits to veterans and pay reparations to Iraq.
Jason Washburn, who did three tours in Iraq, said he once was homeless and living with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he saw firsthand how those who chose to leave military life are treated and forgotten. The military does not take care of physical or mental problems, said Washburn, who lives in Philadelphia. He served with the Marine Corps.
Steve Mortillo, 25, of Philadelphia, said the war has taken a drastic toll on service members and weakens the nation's ability to defend itself. Mortillo served three years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq fropm March 2004 until February 2005.
"A very small minority benefit from us being over there," said Marlisa Grogan, 28, of New Jersey, who served in Iraq for about a year.
The people of Iraq don't feel like they are benefiting from the war, Grogan said.
Jason Hurd, 28, of North Carolina, spent a year serving in Iraq.
He said the war is an illegal occupation, adding that the group wants to tell service members about their rights.
This article, "Group opposing Iraq conflict will host event today", by Molly DeWitt, was published in the Jacksonville Daily News, August 8, 28
Veterans who oppose the war are headed to Jacksonville to rock the troops and promote their cause.
Six members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War organization are bringing the State of the Union base tour to town today. They are traveling about 6,800 miles across the country in an RV and visiting eight military installations to host free concerts for service members and promote the organization's message.
The bases included in the tour were chosen because they are the most deployed in the nation, said Jason Hurt, former Army medic and IVAW member.
"We want to go to the troops and show them our support and that they have a support network with us," he said.
The group is hosting a free concert at 8 tonight for service members and veterans at Fast Freddie's on Lejeune Boulevard. The bands Rebel Inc. and Fall Victim will be performing at the event.
The purpose of the base tour is to get IVAW's message out and to inform veterans of benefits and services available to them as well as to tell active duty service members about GI rights, said Marlisa Grogan, former Marine captain and IVAW member.
"I look at it as an opportunity to be able to discuss the true state of our union with Marines and soldiers and be able to offer up this info that is beneficial," Grogan said.
While she served in the Marine Corps, Grogan was against the current occupation, which IVAW refers to as "an unjust, illegal and unwinnable occupation." She said she became a member of IVAW because the war is not benefiting the United States or its citizens.
"I look at it in a really concrete way. As an officer, as well as enlisted Marines, we are always charged with the promise to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and right now we're violating that Constitution, and that's my main concern," she said. "We're going against something that we promised: We're going against our oath. We're contradicting the Constitution in a way."
One of the organization's central messages is that veterans and active duty service members who do not support the war are not alone, said Jason Washburn, former Marine corporal, three time Iraq veteran and IVAW member.
"You are not alone," he said. "We've been through this. We've been through the things that they've been through ... are going through. Things that they're facing, whether it be not knowing the rights available to them, the fact that they can speak their opinion, ... or having trouble getting the proper mental health care - we've been through that too and we're here for them."
IVAW will also be hosting a free VA benefits workshop and barbecue at 1 p.m. Saturday at Alien Art Tattoo on Lejeune Boulevard. A veteran's service officer from the VA will be available to answer questions and provide information.
"We're all about making sure the troops get taken care of and get the benefits that they were promised and that they deserve, and a lot of times they're not and that's one of the main missions of this tour," Washburn said. "It's one of those injustices that we see. They should be getting taken care of but they're not. We're basically doing everything in our power to make that happen."
This article "Anti-war group brings message", by Drew Brooks, was published in the Fayetteville Observer, August 7, 2008
Jason Hurd started speaking out against the Army’s involvement in Iraq after he returned from that country in 2005.
The Asheville native said he quickly found a shared view and camaraderie with a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War.
On Wednesday, the group sponsored a free concert for soldiers and veterans at Docks at the Capitol on Hay Street in Fayetteville. Two bands, The Greens and Rebel Inc., played. About 30 people were there at 8:30 p.m.
Hurd said the group has received a positive response in Fayetteville, and there is talk of starting a chapter here.
Hurd said group members are taking their message on the road, visiting nine military communities in seven states as part of their “State of the Union” tour.
Hurd said it was important that members of the military and veterans understand it’s OK to oppose the war.
“Look, you’re not alone,” Hurd said. “We’re with you and we’re here to support you.”
Founded in 2004, Iraq Veterans Against the War now counts 1,250 members who share their belief that the occupation of Iraq is unconstitutional and illegal.
Hurd said he became disillusioned by the death and destruction he saw while serving as a medic in central Baghdad. Others in the group, he said, are sick of the war’s effect on their families.
“When your spouse goes off to war, you’re essentially alone,” he said.
Hurd said the group wants to dispel the notion that you can’t support the troops and oppose the war at the same time. The vets in the group, he said, give it more credibility. He said it was all right for soldiers to express their First Amendment views so long as they aren’t in uniform.
Hurd said the group wasn’t in Fayetteville to force its message on soldiers. While on the U.S. tour, the group makes no speeches, aside from short introductions, before the concert begins. Volunteers are available to talk with soldiers individually.
The group will host a Veterans Affairs health-benefits workshop Friday at 7 p.m. at Docks at the Capitol.
The article "Iraq Veterans Against the War event to be held in Watertown this weekend", by Sarah Rivette, was originally published in the Watertown Daily Times, July 31, 2008
The Iraq Veterans Against the War organization will make its way to Watertown this weekend for its State of the Union Base tour.
The speaking tour will have two official events this weekend: a concert at the Different Drummer Cafe, 12 Paddock Arcade, on Saturday night and a barbecue with a veterans' benefits workshop at Thompson Park on Sunday afternoon.
One objective, according to the organizers, is to make active-duty soldiers and veterans aware of their rights and privileges within the Veterans Affairs system. Members of the organization also say that becoming a part of IVAW has helped them deal with their post-traumatic stress disorder and they want to help other soldiers facing the same issues.
"When I found IVAW, it let me know there was a support group for people who have gone to Iraq and have seen the destruction and want to do something about it," said Kristopher Goldsmith, a former active-duty soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. "Instead of getting out of the military and pretending like nothing ever happened, it has given me an outlet for my recovery with PTSD."
The tour will take six veterans and two musical acts across the country for a month, where they will visit the most deployed Army and Marine installations.
The Different Drummer Cafe will host a fundraising event at 7 p.m. Friday with a silent auction. The concert, featuring Son of Nun and Ryan Harvey and Head Roc, will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the cafe. The barbecue, where information on soldiers' rights and how to navigate the Veterans Affairs system will be available, will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Thompson Park.
"We are going around to the busiest and most-deployed bases across the nation and we are bringing some food and fun with us," said Jason E. Hurd, 28, a former member of the Tennessee National Guard. "We are coming there to let them know they are not alone."
This article, by Cynthia and Michael Orange, was published in AlterNet, April 18, 2008
Soldiers of the 'War on Terror' Speak Out
If all of America were to hear these voices, the occupation of Iraq would already be over.
We're not bad people; not monsters. We're normal people caught in a horrible situation."
-Statement from Clifton Hicks, a tank gunner with the Army's 1st Cavalry Regiment and testifier at "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan"
Over four days, we witnessed thirty hours of vetted statements from seventy two veterans, active duty soldiers, experts, and Iraqis who had the great courage to go public with their first-hand experiences as part of "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations." A common thread emerged of soldiers who struggled with a questionable mission as occupiers of a country in the midst of a civil war, and Iraqi families being torn apart and terrified, terrified by-not grateful for-the presence of American soldiers and private mercenaries. The soldiers and veterans transfixed us with their words and graphic images that exposed the dark underbelly of the Iraq Occupation that the mainstream media have chosen to ignore, just as they ignored these groundbreaking hearings.
The national veterans organization, Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW), held these hearings near Washington D.C. from March 13 to 16. They patterned them after the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held in Detroit by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which are now thought to be one of the turning points of that conflict. The title for the hearings comes from Thomas Paine who wrote in 1776, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of [their] country; but he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Unlike the "summer soldiers" who often deserted their duties in Paine's time, "winter soldiers" carry on courageously through the darkness.
We tried to comprehend the enormous scale of the so-called "collateral damage" in Iraq as speakers cited surveys that estimated about a million Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion, and that over four million Iraqis were forced from their homes. The speakers told of Iraqis, being without power and water, begging for food and fuel, and only wanting foreign troops and the 180,000 private contractors and mercenaries to leave so they can begin to rebuild their devastated country.
The presenters at Winter Soldier went deeper than telling stories that once again confirm what we all should know: war is hell. They addressed the anguished question that naturally arises: How do you explain actions that would be criminal even in a war zone?
The soldiers and veterans explained how trickle-down abuse starts at the top ranks of the military hierarchy with institutionalized racism, sexual harassment, and assault on the lower ranks. They talked about their complete lack of training in Iraqi culture and language and their conditioning before leaving U.S. soil to think of Iraqis as "less than," as "Hajis;" a term once reserved for pilgrims to Mecca, now turned inside out to demean and dehumanize. "Haji" has become to the Iraq occupation what "Gook" became to the Vietnam and Korean wars. When people are dehumanized, it becomes easier to kill them.
We could not listen to the four days of accounts and imagine our country invaded Iraq to export the American dream of freedom and democracy. Even the ultraconservative former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, declared that "the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil." It didn't take long for the soldiers and vets who spoke to come to the same conclusion once they experienced the reality on the ground.
As in all wars, if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to grasp the white-hot frustration, anger, and vengeful wrath that results when our soldiers have no reliable way to discern friend from foe and are under extreme duress at virtually all times in a near-country-wide combat zone. As the disillusionment over the injustice and the impossibility of the mission grows, so does the abuse of civilians. When soldiers, deployed two, three, four, and even five times, experience more and more casualties in their units-people with whom they share a bond that can be even stronger than family-their rage understandably erupts and they need to blame someone for their grief. Similar circumstances produced similar results in the jungles of Vietnam.
Kristofer Goldsmith was a good soldier, graduating at the top of his basic training class and receiving a 94.6 percent average in his Warrior Leadership Course. But after four deployments in Iraq and almost shooting a six-year-old boy, he said he became a "broken soldier." He was due to get out of the service when he, like some 80,000 other soldiers, was "stop-lossed" and ordered to redeploy to Iraq for a fifth time. Plagued by mental anguish the day before he was to leave, he tried to kill himself with alcohol and prescription pills. Although finally released, his discharge papers state, "Misconduct: Serious Offense" because of his suicide attempt. He showed the audience a picture of himself in uniform as the proud soldier, then slammed it down on the table saying "This boy is dead."
So many soldiers and veterans spoke of their noble motives for joining the military-especially after 9/11-but then having to face the ignoble inhumanity of this occupation that so compromised their values. Then they returned to a country that anointed them as the heroes they so wished to be. Is it any wonder they are conflicted and disillusioned with the contradictions? Is it any wonder that government statistics report that one in three returning soldiers has mental problems and that CBS News recently described the suicide rate among today's soldiers and vets as "epidemic?" As we continue to see with Vietnam vets, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a normal human response to the inhumanity of war.
We listened to Jason Hurd, a medic with ten years of Army service including tours of duty in Iraq: "But as time went on and the absurdity of war set in, they started taking things too far. Individuals from my unit indiscriminately and unnecessarily opened fire on innocent civilians as they were driving down the road on their own streets." He asked us all to see the war through the eyes of an Iraqi and consider how we might respond if a foreign army invaded our communities and terrorized our families.
The soldiers and vets described the shear mechanics of killing so many people. In story after story, we heard how Rules of Engagement slowly eroded to the point where it was too often left up to these young, very frightened, soldiers to determine for themselves if they "felt" threatened. Jason Lemieux, who served almost five years with the Marines, including the invasion and three tours in Iraq, described the rules he received: "[M]y commander told me that our mission was-and I quote-'to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved.' And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment." Too often, the Rules were reduced to "Shoot anything that moves."
Two Marines talked about trashing the country during the invasion. One of them, Brian Casler, served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the invasion force, he said he and others in their unit defecated and urinated into the containers of food and water they threw at the welcoming children they encountered. To relieve the boredom during his first deployment, they demolished Babylonian ruins and "drove over the rubble for fun." After describing how they ransacked a public building, he said, "We found out later that we had shredded all of the birth certificates for the City of Fallujah."
Several speakers talked about the disrespect of the Iraqi dead. Michael Leduc, for example, told us about "Rotten Randy" and "Tony the Torso," the nicknames his Marine unit gave to the corpses they used for rifle practice.
Soldiers and vets also explained the practice of "reconnaissance by fire," where they'd shoot first into a house or a neighborhood in order to draw return fire. Then, instead of moving on the source of the return fire and incurring more risk to the unit, they'd respond with overwhelming firepower that devastated the entire building or area. Hart Vigas, a mortarman who served with the Army's 82nd Airborne for the invasion of Iraq, painted a word picture of the indiscriminate, "ground-shaking" destruction from C-130 Specter gunships. The students have learned from their teachers. A forward observer and drill instructor with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Jessie Hamilton stated that the Iraqi forces "showed little or no restraint" when they responded to the slightest attack with such indiscriminate firing that the U.S. troops gave nicknames to their methods: 'spray and pray' and 'death blossom.' "Once the shooting started," he said, "death would blossom all around."
Clifton Hicks described an operation that resulted in an official estimate of 700 to 800 enemy dead. "Judging from what I saw on the ground," he said, "I'm willing to swear under oath in all honesty that while many enemy combatants were in fact killed, the majority of those so-called KIAs were in fact civilians attempting to flee the battlefield.
The gripping presentation and images from Jon Michael Turner, who served in Iraq with the 8th Marines, were, like so many personal stories we've heard, still bleeding with its raw truthfulness. "A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around three in the morning . . . . And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families." After he described segregating the women, the children, and the men, he said, "If the men of the household were giving us problems, we'd go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it be choking them or slamming their head against the walls. . . . On my wrist, there's Arabic for 'F you.' I got that put on my wrist just two weeks before we went to Iraq, because that was my choking hand, and any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it."
He was one of the first to speak of these things but far from the last. Like so many other speakers, he said this kind of situation was the norm for him and for others, not the exception. With a forced smile that constrained his quivering lips, he closed with an apology to the Iraqi people: "I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people. . . . until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was."
Describing the heartache that results from not being able to identify your enemy, Jason Washburn, a Marine who served four years and completed three tours of duty in Iraq, said this: "If the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. . . . I remember one woman was walking by, carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it."
Soldiers and vets told how superior officers instructed them on the official ways to torment and beat detainees. Andrew Duffy, a medic who served on the trauma team at the Abu Ghraib military prison, put it this way, "You can't spell abuse without 'Abu.'" They were told to use the term "detainee" because, unlike "prisoner of war," there are no laws protecting detainees. While he rocked back and forth in his seat nervously, Mathew Childess, a Marine infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, referred to beating detainees and "breaking fingers." When a particular detainee begged for food and water, he took the man's hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it into the man's mouth.
Like Turner, numerous soldiers and veterans stared into the cameras that were recording the hearing for broadcast and pled for forgiveness from the Iraqi people now that they were distanced from the madness in Iraq in an apparent attempt to regain some of what had been lost. For many, their hands trembled as they talked and, along with us witnesses, were moved to tears. At other times, so many only revealed that thousand-yard stare we've seen too many times on the faces of Vietnam vets who carry the scars of that war.
We sat engulfed in the horror, sorrow, and grief of the soldiers' experiences and wondered how we could transform this to help our children and grandchildren reach an understanding so that they can make wise decisions when they have the opportunity to serve their community and country at the local homeless shelter, the voting booth, the peace march, or the armed forces.
Some vets like Jeff Lucey couldn't speak, so his parents spoke in his stead. His father said his grown Marine son came home so haunted by what he had done and witnessed that he drank heavily to anesthetize his pain-a coping strategy mentioned by many of the vets who spoke. His parents said Veterans Affairs (VA) told them they couldn't assess him for PTSD until he was alcohol free. Although he wouldn't talk about the trauma he experienced, Jeff would ask his father to hold him on his lap and rock him so he could feel safe. Jeff's father said the last time he was able to hold his son was when he cut his body down from the rafters at their home where Jeff had hung himself with a hose.
Those who sell the invasion and occupation as a "just war" will deny that these first-hand accounts are part of the whole truth or they will simply dismiss the speakers as liars and traitors, which is already happening. They will continue to entice new advocates and a never-ending stream of recruits, all made possible by a gutless Congress, a compliant media, an apathetic public, and a bottomless military budget, including $4 billion annually for recruiting.
Repeatedly, the speakers stated that they welcomed the opportunity to testify as to the accuracy of their statements in a legal proceeding. Luis Montalvan, a captain with 17 years of service in the Army, stated, "I would like nothing better than to testify under oath to Congress." He then quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
US/IRAQ: "We Reacted Out of Fear, and With Total Destruction"
By Dahr Jamal, March 14, 2008
SILVER SPRING, Maryland, Mar 14 (IPS) - Hart Viges joined the U.S. Army the day after Sep. 11, 2001, in the belief that he could help make the world a safer place.
He ended up stationed in Fallujah, and then Baghdad. "We were the only authority and took full advantage of that," he told an audience of roughly 300 people here gathered for three days of testimony by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan about abuses of civilians. "Everything was haji...haji house, haji smokes, haji burger."
The term "haji" is used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to degrade and dehumanise the Iraqi people.
Viges, like others who spoke, said that U.S. troops routinely detained innocent people during home raids.
"We never went on the right raid where we got the right house, much less the right person -- not once," he said.
He also said it was common practice for troops to take photographs as "war trophies".
"We were driving in Baghdad one day and found a dead body on the side of the road," Viges said. "We pulled over to secure the area and my friends jumped off and started taking pictures with it, smiling. They asked me if I wanted to join them and I said no, but not because it was unethical, but because it wasn't my kill. Because you shouldn't take trophies with those you didn't kill. I wasn't upset this man was dead, but just that they shouldn't be taking credit for something they didn't do. But that's war."
The event, which has drawn international media attention, was organised by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Its goal is to give U.S. service members a chance to talk about their experiences during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to show that their stories of wrongdoing in both countries were not isolated incidents limited to a few "bad apples", as the Pentagon claims, but were everyday occurrences.
Adam Kokesh served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year. Speaking on a panel about the Rules of Engagement (ROE), he held up the ROE card soldiers are issued in Iraq and said, "This card says, 'Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself'."
Kokesh pointed out that "reasonable certainty" was the condition for using deadly force under the ROE, and this led to rampant civilian deaths. He discussed taking part in the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. During that attack, doctors at Fallujah General Hospital told IPS there were 736 deaths, over 60 percent of which were civilians.
"We changed the ROE more often than we changed our underwear," Kokesh said. "At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark. I don't think soldiers should be put in the position to choose between their morals and their instinct for survival."
Kokesh also testified that during two cease-fires in the midst of the siege, the military decided to let out as many women and children from the embattled city as possible, but this did not include most men.
"For males, they had to be under 14 years of age," he said. "So I had to go over there and turn men back, who had just been separated from their women and children. We thought we were being gracious."
The Mar. 13-16 event has been named "Winter Soldier" to honour a similar gathering 30 years ago of veterans of the Vietnam War. Winter soldiers, according to U.S. founding father Thomas Paine, are the people who stand up for the soul of their country, even in its darkest hours.
Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in 2004 to give those who have served in the military since Sep. 11, 2001 a way to come together and speak out against what they say is an unjust, illegal and unwinnable war. Today, IVAW has over 800 members in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada and on military bases overseas.
Steve Casey served in Iraq for over a year, from mid-2003.
"We were scheduled to go home in April 2004 but due to rising violence, we stayed in with Operation Blackjack," Casey told the audience. "I watched soldiers firing into the radiators and windows of oncoming vehicles. Those who didn't turn around were unfortunately neutralised one way or another -- well over 20 times I personally witnessed this. There was a lot of collateral damage."
Jason Hurd served in central Baghdad from November 2004 until November 2005. He told of how, after his unit took "stray rounds" from a nearby firefight, a machine gunner responded by firing over 200 rounds into a nearby building.
"We fired indiscriminately at this building," he said. "Things like that happened every day in Iraq. We reacted out of fear for our lives, and we reacted with total destruction."
Hurd said the situation deteriorated rapidly while he was in Iraq. "Over time, as the absurdity of war set in, individuals from my unit indiscriminately opened fire at vehicles driving down the wrong side of the road. People in my unit would later brag about it. I remember thinking how appalled I was that we were laughing at this, but that was the reality."
Hurd expressed what the over 200 veterans in the room appeared to agree with.
"We're disrupting the lives of our veterans with this occupation, not only the lives of Iraqis. If a foreign occupying force came here to the U.S., do you not think that every person that has a shotgun would not come out of the hills and fight for their right for self-determination?"
To rousing applause, Hurd ended his testimony with, "Ladies and gentlemen, that country is suffering from our occupation, and ending that suffering begins with the total and immediate withdrawal of all of our troops."
Video and photographic evidence will also be presented at the event, and the testimony and panels can be viewed live on Satellite TV and over streaming video on ivaw.org.
On the morning after reaching the National Labor College and our friends and allies, it was only appropriate that he begin the testimony. If I have met a man more befitting of his name, I do not remember. Hart Viges, however, was not always the kind, deep-thinking man he is today, according to his testimony today. Iraq changed him, like it has so many of our youth, including me. Hart has felt many of the same emotions we all have and testified to the guilt he has felt after mass-mortaring Iraqi towns and not having to see the effects of his work. He is particularly ashamed of not taking a trophy picture with a dead Iraqi . . . not because of his moral opposition to it, but instead because it wasn't his kill.
Clifton Hicks began his testimony by making it clear how much he loves and respects the men he served with in Iraq. They kept him safe and they kept him sane and many of them truly believed in the mission they were undertaking, and that is okay; he will always love them and would never betray them.
Clifton Hicks and his comrade, Steve Casey, are giving testimony about their experience in a "free-fire zone" because there were "no friendlies." According to a numbers cruncher later on, their company had killed between 700 and 800 enemy combatants, however, Hicks and Casey never saw any enemy combatants. In November of 2003, according to Hicks, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex. There was prior-notice given to the company, according to Hicks, by a Lieutenant Colonel about "putting on a show" for the boys. Later, the apartment was annihilated as Casey and his comrades watched and cheered from the roof of a nearby building. Casey states that he never thought about it at the time, but now the loss of so much civilian life truly bothers him.
Hicks is testifying that this building demolition was the most destructive act he's seen in his entire life, and it was not a legitimate military target. A sniper team could have neutralized the enemy sporadically firing from that location, but leadership instead chose to destroy the entire building and the civilians inside.
Hicks is testifying now about a wedding party that was fired upon by an infantry patrol that that had confused their celebratory gunfire for the gunfire that they had received across the street. In the end, there were several members of the family wounded and one killed . . . a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. After realizing their folly, all the men could do was move on after their leadership told them to continue mission.
The testimony was just interrupted by an older man yelling "Carried live while good men die!" before being escorted away. Yes, sir, good men are dying. Good American men are dying and good Iraqi men are dying. Just like you, we want it to stop, and that is where we share commonality. We are not "betraying" anyone as you assert, sir; we are those who are giving a voice to those who cannot speak their mind in the conformist, oppressive culture of the US military.
Steve Casey is now continuing the testimony and speaking about a house raid where the squad destroyed the contents of an entire house while a woman shrieked, only to find out they were at the wrong house. He is now showing a video of that raid, and answering questions about the mistaken raid. The woman's voice is haunting, and I now wonder what it must have been like for her to clean up that house after the US had left. Casey reiterates that this is not an indictment on those he served with; they were products of the environment they were in.
Steven Mortillo served in the army from 2002 to 2005 as a scout. March 17th, 2004, Mortillo arrived in Iraq and spent most of his time conducting "presence patrols", walking down the street waiting for something to go wrong. On one of these patrols, his squad received RPG fire and could not return fire, due to the angle of the Bradley weapon system. They fired warning shots into a wall in order to prevent any more action. They showed remarkable restraint, but that would not be the case for the entirety of their tour. Once they started taking casualties and losing men, they started losing patience and growing resentful. It became more and more difficult to restrain their anger.
On a dismounted patrol that December, Mortillo's squad came under fire. He called up the contact reports on his manpack radio and suppressed the area with M203 grenades; the fighting was intense and fast-paced. After breaking contact, his unit EVACed their platoon leader, who had been wounded, into an awaiting Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The enraged Bradley crew asked where the attack had come from and directed all their firepower at the area, a highly populated residential neighborhood. The sincerity in his voice and periodic pauses in his speech are convincing; this man feels horrible for what he and his comrades did in that theater. According to Mortillo, it was difficult to even know if you are following the ROE when you are in the thick of it and especially when you believe you are getting revenge for the death of a friend.
Thus far, every participant has taken great pains to make it clear that they are not here selling out their buddies or betraying anyone.
Jesse Hamilton was a former drill sergeant and gung ho soldier who volunteered to go to Iraq to help mentor the Iraqi army, even though he disagreed with the war. In Fallujah from 2005 to 2006, Hamilton served mostly with a ten man team and many Iraqi personnel. In his opinion, there are no true ROE in Iraq because the Iraqi forces and the civilian resistance paid no attention to ROE. The Iraqi forces were poorly trained or poorly concerned about the matter of firing their weapons in a responsible manner. Anyone who has trained these men, as I have, knows what he means Hamilton says, "Spray and Pray." I understand what Hamilton means when he says that it seemed as if the Iraqis didn't treat their own civilians very well. The Iraqis could be very brutal, especially after Iraqi soldiers had been killed. After taking prisoners, the cruel nature of the men was exposed and Hamilton and the other American advisers did all they could to quell that. The main goals of Hamilton's squad were to keep the Iraqis from having negligent discharges of their weapons and keeping the Iraqis from torturing their prisoners. Such a mission made apathy inevitable and wore Hamilton's squad down emotionally and mentally. Yes, the Iraqi Army made improvements tactically while Hamilton was in the theater, but their cruelty to each other never did. As a soldier, it is impossible to change the culture of another country; Hamilton maintains, that if that is our mission, it is a lost cause. If the Iraqis want self-governance, give it to them. These are the words of a man who wanted so badly for things to be different. He cared for these men and sacrificed much to train and mentor them. It's just not worth it, he ends.
IVAW's most famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion of him) member, Adam Kokesh, did not agree with the war, but he did volunteer to serve in Iraq in order to "do the right thing" and "clean up our mess". Adam is reading the ROE card that every soldier or Marine is given.
Adam was in Fallujah shortly after the four Blackwater contractors were killed and hanged from a bridge. In that city, the ROE was always changing.
On the screen is a picture of a vehicle that was destroyed by a .50 caliber machine gun at a checkpoint because it seemed suspicious and the Marines felt threatened. As the car and the people inside burned, the Marines tried to justify their action by discussing what they asserted were rounds inside the vehicle cooking off . . . after bringing the car inside, however, they found that there were no rounds and the inhabitants of the car were unarmed.
During the waning days of the siege of Fallujah, fires broke out and Iraqi firefighters and police raced to the scene. US forces saw the silhouettes up against the area where they had taken fire and started firing on the men. Miscommunication was often the cause of scenes like this.
It was relayed to Kokesh's unit that al Zarqawi was fleeing the city in a Black Opal and to stop all black Opals . . . black Opals were everywhere in Iraq. Kokesh testifies that, whether they are guilty or innocent, all the detainees get treated the same, and it leads to more and more "innocent" ones becoming part of the insurgency.
Kokesh truly believed that he would be doing great things when he went to Iraq with the Civil Affairs team. "We care, so you don't have to" became the mantra as he spent more and more time in Iraq trying to catch rides with infantry squads in order to do his job. Kokesh was proud of what he could do on a local scale and he did the best job that he could.
Jason Hurd served in Baghdad from November 2004 to November 2005. Jason's father, a truly gung-ho WWII veteran and gun enthusiast, was vehemently opposed to Jason joining the army, and Jason is now convinced that he had severe PTSD. Jason joined anyway and found himself in Iraq serving as a combat medic. His first mission involved manning observation points along the International Zone . . . or Green Zone. After a stray bullet from an Iraqi Police-led firefight across the river hit the shield of an American humvee, the gunner fired over 200 .50 caliber machine gun rounds into a building that may or may not have had civilians inside; they never knew.
After following the rules of escalation and rules of engagement to a tee for months, the absurdity of war crept in and soldiers started taking liberties. They escalated force before they were allowed to do so.
Jason is now telling the story of an Iraqi woman who told them about her husband, who had been killed by US forces after merely getting too close to a convoy. Shortly after, her husband's death, her house was raided, and her son was detained and taken away and returned two weeks later. The intelligence was faulty, and the raid never should have been conducted in the first place.
The personal anguish in Jason's voice as he provides accounts of car bombs, dying Iraqi teenagers, "drawing down" on an eighty-year old Iraqi woman, and the effects of PTSD since his return. He points out that every survey shows the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on Americans, who they believe are to blame for their situation. It is much like how we react if we were invaded by another country. An Iraqi man once told Hurd that they did not question the intentions of the US soldiers, but that their presence is what has caused so much pain and suffering.
Jose Vasquez is concluding this panel and summing up the point of this event.